At Internet of Elephants we are trying to create emotional connections between people and wildlife, and we think one of the keys to this could be through the use of data. Why data? To many people, data means cold facts and figures, complex algorithms and research that is not understandable to non-academics. But when IoE looks at data, we see the enthralling stories behind it. We've selected the data of an elephant, wildebeest and two lions to show the world how their stories can capture the imagination. 

Researchers across the world have been gathering data on wildlife through GPS collaring, camera trapping, citizen science, and other means. The data they collect provides them with insights into the behaviour and needs of animal populations. But when you zoom in and look at the data of an individual animal, storylines emerge. And the life and drama of an elephant, wildebeest and lioness jumps out at you from the numbers.

The drama behind the data

We get a glimpse into their family life, their eating habits and the dangers they face, all from the comfort of our own home thousands of miles away. Instead of the usual sad, dramatic imagery of endangered and dying animals, we can now be mesmerised by animals while they are alive and in their natural habitat.

To show how we can unlock stories from wildlife data, we’ve taken the data of three individual animals in Tanzania and Kenya and created a short film. Our data scientist, Raff Mares and conservation education advisor Radhika Miraglia worked with Clever Franke, a creative agency that designs data driven experiences, to bring the stories to life. 

Why do is it so important to show what stories the data can tell? Thomas Clever, co-founder of Clever Franke, explains: “They say ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’; data visualisation is precisely that."

"There is a limit to what our brain can comprehend and ‘store’ at any given moment. By visualising data we give ourselves a far better way to deal with the organisation and comprehension of knowledge.”

Working with wildlife data was a first for CleverFranke. Clever: “Working with data can be, and often is, very abstract. This specific wildlife dataset was about individual animals, which gave us a very personal insight and revealed meaningful stories.  I think this appeals to the human intrinsic curiosity to understand the world around us. So literally seeing these animals come to life on our screen was very exciting.”

Take for instance the story of Manyara the elephant who lives in Manyara Ranch, a privately owned protected area in Tanzania. Her data tells us that she regularly makes a risky highway crossing to reach a salt-pan and satisfy her craving for sodium.

Or we can follow Neatoo, who mysteriously leaves her herd and travels with millions of fellow wildebeest during the great migration to fresh grass pastures.

But even the drama of millions of wildebeests pales in comparison to the story of Fleur and Valentine, two lionesses living in the Soysambu Conservancy a few hundred kilometers away. Fleur leaves her sister and cubs to mate with a male lion in nearby Nakuru National Park, but finds her route home cut off by a newly operational fence. We can tell from the data that she is desperate to return home as she runs up and down the fence looking for a way through.

These videos show why we are so excited about data as a tool to ignite people’s curiosity for wildlife. When we extend the use of data collected for research into new areas such as games, we have a powerful way of engaging millions of people from all ages and backgrounds to conservation.  By bringing the real-life stories told by GPS data to life, we can engage people from the US to Vietnam in the daily lives of animals thousands of miles away.

The data used for these videos was kindly provided by World Elephant Centre, Gnu Landscapes, and Savannah Tracking.